…Jimmy Carter promised us during his campaign for the presidency. He did not add "but no better," although he should have — as he was shortly to discover. I just came across the following paragraphs in my files. I wrote them 20 years ago, and post them now for whatever relevance they may have today:
Communism is a worse system than ours not because its ideals are too low but because they are too high. It assumes intelligence and good will to be widespread among the higher primates, which is wildly counterfactual.
Marx forgot that where we stand depends on where we sit: that the worker raised to a boss becomes a boss, no better and no worse than if he had been born a Rockefeller. And so communism inevitably fell to the Stalins, which is to say to newer, smarter, stronger and crueler czars.
Our own system was fashioned not by scholars sitting in the British Library, but by experienced men who were, most of them, fed up with kings and czars whether hereditary or self-made.
The safeguards they built into the Constitution meant that if we would never be governed by a philosopher-king like Marcus Aurelius, nor would we suffer under a Nero. The voters would choose from the unexceptional middle where most of them comfortably resided, dimly suspicious of their betters.
So far this has protected us from an excess of either good or evil in our leaders. Perhaps the misfortune of the first is balanced by the benefits of the second; perhaps not. A truly wise and good president would certainly be fun to try, though.
Unfortunately such a president, to be effective, would require a wise and good citizenry, congress, and courts. But a government for the people being rendered impossible by the people themselves, we must be content to muddle along with what we have. It is what it is, and it could be worse.
On the evidence so far offered by history Americans will turn in times of great stress to an FDR rather than to a Huey Long or a Father Coughlin. Even in times of lesser stress, we do not send a MacArthur or a McCarthy to the White House; we send an Eisenhower. Although a Reagan may have stocked his administration with scum like John Mitchell, James Watt and William Casey, they were not president.
The worst we can manage when it comes to Hitlers or Stalins in the White House seems to be amiable front men for evil. The latter do as much damage as they can in eight years, but it always falls short of fatal. Or has so far.